Book Review – ‘Combat at Close Quarters: An illustrated history of the US Navy in the Vietnam War’ by Eric Grove

By Eric Grove, published March 2021


The Vietnam War is not normally seen as a maritime conflict. Yet it was in many ways. Not only was much of the air campaign against North Vietnam and the Communists in the south launched from aircraft carriers but there were huge efforts devoted to maritime interdiction operations, shore bombardment and a riverine campaign that had near decisive results.

The US Navy produced a number of booklets to explain and commemorate the conflict. Edward Marolda, the respected former acting director of Naval History in Washington was responsible for these productions and has now edited a hardback collection of four chapters based on them to cover the entire conflict, the first on ‘The Naval Air War’ the USN’s contribution to the ‘Rolling Thunder’ bombing campaign, the second on ‘Green Hell; Warfare on the Rivers and Canals of Vietnam;’, the third on ‘Nixon’s Trident; Naval Power in South East Asia, 1968–72’ and, finally, ‘Knowing the Enemy; Naval Intelligence in South East Asia.’ There is a list of suggested readings and a comprehensive index.

It is a pity that the editor did not do more to produce a more integrated account. It could have been done but was not, perhaps because of the need to confirm the contributions of the co- authors of the chapters, Norman Polmar, Blake Dunnavent and Richard Mobley. John Darrell Sherwood is the only author credited with the ‘Nixon’s Trident’ chapter.

One reason for the production of the book is the relevance of the Vietnam experience to later littoral operations. The story demonstrates how a navy has to be able to fight at the higher level against great powers and engage in more limited conflicts. This is the current situation. In Vietnam there was movement from great power war to something more limited; now it is the opposite. There are lessons here to be learned and it is to be hoped that this informative and well-illustrated volume will assist the transition back to fully flexible naval forces …

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Filed under: Location | Period | Post WW2 | Twentieth Century | Pacific
Subjects include: Battles & Tactics | Navies | Strategy & Diplomacy

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